“For a while, before I came out, I thought to be gay was to live with a double consciousness. I thought being gay meant being two sides to one coin, never being able to fully realize all of who I am and all of what I have to offer as a multi faceted individual. By day I was everything the world wanted me to be and at night I tried to explore what it really meant to be a gay man in my lifetime.
As an adult, I tried coming out to many people. In 2009 I joined the Army, was preparing to get married and yet screaming on the inside for acceptance and validation. I was looking for someone to say it’s okay, I understand you and who you are. I accept you not just as a gay man but as a human being.
I decided I would come out to my First Sergeant while stationed thousands of miles away from the conservative rhetoric I once knew in America. I was in South Korea, I knew the consequences of coming out, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still a harsh reality but I couldn’t live with myself any longer. I had to decide if I was going to own my life and face reality or live with a burden that would eventually consume me. I went upstairs to his office, closed the door behind me and I admitted the unspeakable truth, “First Sergeant, I am gay”. An eerie silence filled the room and I knew I was going to be discharged. That’s when my First Sergeant leaned over his desk and said “son, we all have our cross to bear, you’re not gay. You are a talented, gifted, handsome and courageous soldier that everyone loves. We need more soldiers like you in the fight, but you’re not gay”. I felt shameful. His not accepting me as a gay man left me hurt and the fight not only continued outside of me but it raged on the inside of me as well.
I tried coming out to others but it was always the same song. “You don’t want to destroy your life, for all of our sake and yours please stay in the closet. Your our friend, our darling dependable Howard”. I tried to escape that tower many times but it changed from an ivory tower to an iron cage. I was trapped within myself, longing for that acceptance from those around me.
My approach drastically changed after I completed my tour of duty in Iraq. I found a new courage and developed a new way of coming out that I felt would work best for me. Instead of me just telling people I decided I’m going to live my life openly on the world stage as an unapologetic gay man. In 2011 I met my current partner and soon to be husband. He left the Army as well the following year and we moved to Washington, D.C. I flew home to Wisconsin and introduced him to my family and not surprisingly they fell in love with him. My cousin pulled me aside and said “I see the love he has for you in his eyes and it’s marvelously beautiful, it’s gorgeous”. He was a breath of fresh air, he allowed me to be myself, not until I met jay did I know of a partner that wholeheartedly supported me being completely open with the world and with myself. He allowed me to have flaws and not be this perfect image that could fit into this little box. He helped me to see the other side of me and told me it was okay to be a beautiful gay man and an imperfect human being.
I realized there was always going to be a couple hundred or couple hundred thousand with stones and bullets at their fingertips but the beauty of life is being whole and being at one with yourself. Once you have found that oneness your true self, fear becomes obsolete. Everybody is not going to agree with you; the beauty of being in D.C. and our American system which I fought for and continue to fight for is that we all have disagreements. However at the end of the day we should be free to share those disagreements and differences and welcome one another to the table of tolerance, justice, but above all else love.
Here’s what I know for sure, I may not see eye-to-eye with another human being but not supporting your life style should not mean tearing another individual or group down. Everyday I acknowledge the imperfections of the world including those within myself but I also believe in making this imperfect union more perfect a lot stronger and a whole lot more enlightened and open minded without discrimination for the next generation. Our differences is the beautiful fabric of life, it’s good and it feels good to be an unapologetic gay, minority, disabled, decorated Iraq war veteran. I can proudly acknowledge that and it has made all the difference in my life, in all aspects of life, love and success.”